City-centre traffic meant that riding the course of the opening team time trial of the Giro d’Italia was off the cards ahead of Friday morning’s designated practice session on closed roads, but having driven the 21.7km route on arrival in Belfast, BMC manager Valerio Piva believes the favourites for overall victory ought to finish within half a minute of one another.
Although intermittent showers are forecast through the early part of the day in Belfast, the roads are expected to be dry come the start of the team time trial at 5.50pm local time. Cadel Evans and BMC set out at 7.20pm and Piva expects them to ride in more or less equivalent conditions to their rivals on the road to Stormont Castle and back.
“It’s hard to say, but if everybody has the same conditions then I’d say that the big favourites’ teams will finish within 30 or 35 seconds of one another,” Piva told Cyclingnews. “More or less all of the teams with a contender for the overall have a team set up to do well in this test, and I don’t see any real super team made up purely of specialists for the team time trial.”
Piva is in his first season as a directeur sportif at BMC and has enjoyed particular success in Giro team time trials with each of his previous two teams. He was in the team car when HTC-Highroad claimed victory in a similar test on the opening day in Turin in 2011. A year later, he guided an unheralded Katusha team to second place in the Verona time trial, making an unexpected gain for Joaquim Rodriguez.
“Having one super cronoman and then some weaker riders is not an advantage in this discipline. You need a well balanced team, a team that stays united and tries to finish together,” Piva said. “Concentration really comes into play, and the preparation and the build-up are all important too. I’m not just talking about the recon in the morning but also getting the bikes set up right and making sure the riders are relaxed and prepared mentally. It’s about having a strong head as much as strong legs.”
Evans, meanwhile, enters the race on something of a high after landing overall victory at the Giro del Trentino. Unlike last year, when he was a relatively late addition to the Giro line-up, the corsa rosa is the centrepiece of Evans’ season and Piva was optimistic that he could improve on his third place finish of 2013, particularly given that his team now includes new arrival Samuel Sanchez.
“Cadel is coming to the Giro in form and it’s his big objective. It’s not like last year, when he came to the Giro at the last moment and there wasn’t a very strong team built around him. This year, we’ve built a very strong team around him and he’s ready. We’re setting out with big hopes,” Piva said.
If Evans is to wear pink into Trieste on June, however, he will have to contend with a number of riders who will expect to out-climb him in the Alps and Dolomites, including Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). As was the case during his 2011 Tour de France victory, one imagines that Evans will look to eke out time over the course of the entire three weeks.
“Obviously not losing time in these early stages is important, given that there’s a lot of uncertainty over the wind and rain. But we have a strong team and if there’s a chance to gain some time, you don’t want to throw that away, because every second you win or lose here will count at the end of the Giro,” Piva said.
“We don’t want to find ourselves in Trieste having lost the Giro because of an error we made in these stages here. So it’s very important to stay alert and if there’s a chance, to pick up some time on the other guys on GC, then why not?”